Saturday, September 12, 2015

COP21: A Hostage Situation

by Laughlin Artz
Editor, Context News

Having now attended both the June and September UNFCCC Climate Change Conferences in Bonn, I can now with absolute certainly report:
COP21 is a hostage situation.

Here is how it plays out.  Every conference attendee I have spoken with, which includes delegates, United Nations representatives and government officials, when posed the question, “Do you agree that what we really need to accomplish in Paris is an agreement that ensures that we will not surpass the critical limit of 1.5 degrees C warming above pre-industrial level?”, the response I got to a person was “Yes.”  To those same people, when I then asked “Is that the agreement we are going to get?” the answer was an equally resounding “No.”  

As someone witnessing this first-hand, in actual conversation with the key players in the COP21 proceedings, it seemed completely bizarre.  To find myself in the midst of a situation where everyone agrees what we need and everyone also agrees we won’t get it.  There are plenty of explanations available for why this is the case, and plenty offered by conference participants; however none of them actually get to the heart of the matter. 

It is only when you delve into the contextual underpinnings of the environment in which this is all happening that you can begin to get a glimpse of the logic and the design shaping the ways in which these people are thinking, being, and acting.  At that level, the contextual level, there is no mystery; it becomes very clear that it is all going according to plan.  The issue is that no one is copping to the plan.

Where this came into stark illumination was on Day 3 of the conference.  On that afternoon, there was an “emergency” meeting called to address a severe lack of progress in the negotiations.  It was labeled a “stocktaking” meeting, a meeting with a stated intention of taking stock of the current rate of progress, and determining a path forward that would increase the rate of progress.  Having witnessed first-hand several of the negotiation sessions, the lack of progress was no mystery to me, and I was interested to see how the lack of progress would be addressed in this emergency meeting. 

What got voiced in the meeting was complaint after complaint about the lack of progress and opinion after opinion as to who or what was to blame.   Had I had the opportunity to speak, I would have asked the question that no one was asking, and that wasn’t even on anyone’s radar to ask.  It was the question that could at least begin to address the elephant in the room that no one could see.  That question being: “Who here is accountable for progress?”  Or more specifically, in the matter of the progress objective declared by the co-chairs at the conference opening, “Whose job is it to ensure that the document progresses by the end of this conference from a compilation of positions to a basis of negotiation?”  

Had that question been asked, and had the truth been told, the answer would have been “no one.”  What would have been said, and I know this as a function of having asked the question “Who is accountable for progress?”  of a wide sampling of conference participants is “we all are.”  Which is simply another way of saying “no one.”   In any situation, if “everyone” is accountable, then no “one” is accountable.

This is not to say that there are not people who have been tasked with aspects of the process.  It is however to say that what it is to be accountable as a concept is very different from being accountable in action.  This environment is one that not only doesn't pull for accountability in action, but actually argues against it.  What is argued for is reasons and explanations, not accountability.  They are two distinct worlds.

So there I am in a room full of the people who have been selected to craft what could be said to be one of the most important agreements of our time, it is clear to everyone that the rate of progress in crafting that agreement is dramatically insufficient for completing the agreement by December, everyone is complaining about the lack of progress, and there is no one in the room who holds him or herself accountable for the on-time completion of the agreement.  That is the actuality of the situation, and as such, that there is a lack of progress is far from surprising, and to think that anything will come from this meeting that will make any significant impact in progress is to be truly delusional and not operating in reality.  The person who could make that difference, the only person who could make that difference, the person accountable, isn’t even in the room. 

This is in no way intended to negate or diminish the commitment of the parties involved in this proceeding, or to lay fault or blame on anyone.  This is only intended to shine a light on the nature of the environment in which the proceedings are occurring, and the impact of that nature on both the rate of progress and the power (or lack thereof) of the participants to impact the situation.

What we have in the absence of an environment of real accountability in these negotiations is an environment of “everyone doing their best given the seemingly inherent constraints of the situation.”  What is shaping the thinking and acting and thereby determining the rate of progress isn’t any real commitment to progress, and more specifically to a specific rate of progress, but rather the “reality” in which the co-chairs, delegates and facilitators “find” themselves at work.

To get a glimpse of this “reality” you only need to listen to the language of the conference.  The “why’s” and “who’s” that are assigned as the culprits in the lack of progress.  Statements like “these are political discussions and as such cannot be pushed, cannot move any faster” or “our job is to bring the countries to the table, but given the complexity of the parties involved, we cannot make them commit to anything”, or “governments X,Y and Z do not move any faster than this” or “this is how things move at this stage of the negotiations and it always goes this way.”

What you hear is multiple expressions of the same thing – “Our hands are tied, and we are doing the absolute best that anyone could do given the constraints in which we are given to operate.”  These constraints,  the "reasons”, "explanations" and “because’s” that the participants relate to as “real” are what is holding the conference hostage, and are what is thwarting any possibility of generating an agreement in Paris that would ensure for our people and our planet a future of sustainability.

These people are held hostage not as a function of the constraints they talk about; they are held hostage by the illusion that those constraints are “real.”  They are victims of a condition, a condition of "reasons and explanations", a condition they have no real choice in the matter of, a condition they don't even see.  

In response to this lack of progress, this crisis of accountability, I have submitted to the co-chair of the conference, in partnership with a colleague at UNFCCC, a proposal to work with the co-chair and facilitators in generating an environment of accountability for the upcoming Bonn negotiations.  

It will be interesting to see the response.  However it goes, at least for my own integrity, I no longer have to bear witness to the insanity of the situation without having at least offered what I propose could make a real difference.